We can’t be there in person to help and support you in a moment of crisis, but there are other options available to you if you can’t turn to someone you trust. By giving us your postcode (or one nearby to where you are right now) we can let you know about services in your area. Remember: this moment will pass; you won’t always feel the way you do right now.
If in doubt always call 999.
You can also sign up to Alumina, our online support for mental health and wellbeing here:
We're back again with another blog drawing on the wisdom of the brilliant people doing Alumina this term. A few days ago we published a blog in which they shared their "what people often don't understand about self-harm" and today we're thinking about what actually helps...
I asked four young people who were happy to be quoted what kinds of things help someone when they're self-harming, and here's what they had to say:
"Sometimes finding gentle ways of communication first rather than going straight in helps." (F)
"When someone really listens and isn't trying to just 'fix' the problem." (S)
"Don’t freak, be observant rather than judgmental...guiding but not controlling and be a support throughout to gain trust" (F)
"I think its important to express that it must've been difficult for them to reach out if you find out by them telling you" (T)
"I find someone giving me a resource such as a leaflet or website less invasive and as I gained trust I could look at bigger long-term options" (F)
And I think the thing that all these words are getting at is...
The kind of support and communication that these young people talk about - non judgemental, supportive, gentle - is actually the kind of support we all need. Because we all need friendship and some help, no matter what our challenges are.
Self-harm can scare people, intimidate them, and often makes them feel like they don't know what to do to help. But what the young people in our Alumina groups tell us is that they don't want to be isolated but they fear being a burden. They keep quiet because they fear rejection and judgement, or being told they have to change.
So we need to find ways to come together. And the best way to do that is gently.
Do you think someone you know is harming? It's a really hard thing to talk about, or to bring up. So maybe there are other ways to start.
"I know that things are really hard for you at the moment. I just want you to know that you can talk to me, if you want. I would really like to understand what's going on, so you are less alone."
It's supportive, it's gentle, it's non-judgemental. And you're saying you want to listen, which is the really important bit.
Friendship and support might not feel like they are doing anything meaningful to help, or to change the situation, but they really are the foundation for recovery, because it's so hard to do alone.
But what about finding more professional help for someone?
This brilliant blog lays out some concrete options (and some great things to say and things not to say) but here are some headlines:
1. Talk to your GP. They might be able to refer you to some other kinds of support through the NHS (but also you should know that these services are really stretched).
2. Talk to someone at school you trust - they might have a counselling service or a pastoral advice centre where you can talk to someone who can help support you.
3. Explore counselling or therapy. Self-harm is usually understood as a way of coping with or managing painful experiences or feelings, and counselling or therapy give us the space to explore and process those things so we can move on. A great place to look for someone is through the BACP or UKCP websites (they are the professional registers of counsellors and psychotherapists). Or if you prefer to work more creatively, look for an art therapist at BAAT.
4.If all of that feels too intense a great place to start is our Alumina support programme which is based online and so can feel less intimidating.
It's our total joy and privilege to get to spend time each week with groups of young people who are trying to take steps towards recovery from self-harm. We often want to share their experiences with you, but actually it's a really important part of Alumina that you get to be anonymous. You tell us what name to call you, and that's all that most of us know about each other.
But just last week we had one of our regular drop-ins for people who have been through Alumina, and I asked if I could share what they had to say here, on the blog. So that's the inspiration for these next two blogs. The voices of young people who are struggling with self-harm right now, and moving towards recovery.
I asked four young people who were happy to be quoted what people don't understand about self-harm, and here's what they had to say:
(The letters refer to the different people!)
So let's talk about some of them, and why they're not true.
When people find out that someone they know is harming there are all kinds of reactions, and often they are extreme. It can make them afraid. It can cause them to freak out (never helpful). It can make them anxious for someone's safety (and it is important to care about that).
But when our reactions are so extreme it can be hard to remember that there is more to this person than their harming. If they were your friend, that's still true. if you know them to be kind, or funny, or clever, or thoughtful, those things are still true. We can never reduce people to one behaviour and it's important that we don't. If someone starts to think that their identity is completely wrapped up with self-harm, how would they be able to imagine a future without it?
It's still one of the biggest misunderstandings of self-harm, that people do it because they want to die. When in most cases it's actually because someone wants to live. They want to find a way to survive and to cope, in the face of overwhelming feelings or experiences. And for now, they way they have found to do that is through self-harm.
Most people who self-harm don't want to need it. They want to find a way to recovery - and that's overwhelmingly our experience in Alumina. Young people sign-up because they want help. They want to find other ways to cope. But it isn't an easy or a quick journey. And it's a journey that requires some support (unless you have superhuman resolve). So stopping harming for a while is an amazing thing to celebrate, but it also doesn't mean that there won't be relapses. In our experience, stopping self-harm grows out of some practical work trying out alternative ways of coping, but it also involves becoming more aware of the reasons that have brought us to the place of needing to self-harm, and more aware of our own emotions.
So what about the idea that it's just a teenage phase? Or that it's all about attention? There's a brilliant blog post in our archives about how these lies stop people reaching for the help they need. When you are self-harming you need support and understanding. Writing off the depth of someone's suffering as a phase or a play for attention is cruel. Instead of looking for excuses or ways to minimise what someone is going through we need to learn how to listen, and then perhaps begin to empathise with what they are going through. Every person's story is unique, and it is never "just" about a tired cliché.
You might have some ideas about why people self-harm. But everyone's reasons are a bit different. Most people who self-harm struggle with feelings of shame about their experiences and their harming, and behaving in a way that makes them feel worse helps nobody. It makes them feel more ashamed and more judged.
So let's be a bit kinder!
And finally, is self-harm contagious?
The short answer is no, but we've got more to say on that one so we'll save it for another blog post soon.
There are always those days that come along and feel like they make everything a bit harder. Sometimes it's anniversaries of things that happen, and other times it's random days when everyone is expected to be happy. Like Valentines' Day. When we're all supposed to feel romantic.
And sometimes it's the little things - like a ridiculous day in the calendar - the that can push us over the edge, and take us from 'just about coping' to 'not coping'.
So we're here to help.
If you love Valentines' Day - woop! Go out and enjoy it! If you're not so sure, here are some tips for getting through.
1. Remember, loads of people are trying to do romantic things and are actually having a rubbish time.
It might look like everyone is all loved up, but often people are paying crazy money (because everything costs more on Valentines' Day) and having a not great time.
2. The whole Valentines' cards thing can make things awkward.
When I was 14 I sent a guy a Valentine and it was all he talked about for ages, bragging to all his friends. Until he found out who it was from. And then he never said another word about it.
When I was older I sent an anonymous Valentine to a friend because I thought it would make her happy. But then when she found it wasn't actually from the person she fancied, but from me, she was actually angry.
(From this I have learned: I should never send Valentines' cards).
3. If you want to be faithful to the origins of Valentines' Day, the original St Valentine had no connection to romantic love, that came about 1000 years earlier. He was killed for being a Christian and actively trying to tell other people about Christianity in the time of the Roman Empire. I don't actually know how you'd commemorate that.
4. Celebrate love. In your own way.
Let's not be so boring and narrow to just leave it to the couples. Who do you love? Your family? Your hamster? Your best friend? Think of something that would make them smile and do that. You could even keep it a secret.
Or think of someone who might not get shown any love this Valentines' Day and do something that would make them happy. (Although remember no.2 and be careful).
We hope it's an unexpectedly good Valentines' Day for all of you.
What actually helps someone who is self-harming?
We asked some young people currently doing Alumina what things actually help someone if they're struggling with self-harm. Do you agree?